In what way does Chaucer attempt to shock the reader through his characterisation of Alisoun in ‘The Wife of Bath’?

Alisoun’s interpretations of biblical texts are highly unique and would have undeniably provoked surprise from a Medieval audience. This is of most notoriety in ‘Jhesus wold nat chese a vicious form of lyving’, explaining how Jesus would have lived a materialistic and luxurious life. This quote was explicitly relevant during this period, as there was a great rivalry over the Dominican and Franciscan sects of the Church as to how Jesus had lived. The Dominicans had believed that Jesus lived a fairly lavish lifestyle, whereas the Franciscans had argued that Jesus had lived a completely humble and modest life. Chaucer’s insertion of Alisoun’s views into this debate would have been highly surprising, as it would have spurred anger for a proportion of the readers. By siding with the views of the Franciscans, it is clear that Alisoun favours the more unpretentious interpretations of the bible. ‘Of no nombre difinucion of bigamye or of octogamye’, challenges many of the conservative interpretations of the Bible, presenting how Alisoun is able to justify her lifestyle through the individualised biblical interpretation. Literary critic L. Bisson argues that the Wife takes ‘delight in seizing the clerical prerogative of assigning meaning to authorative texts’, supporting the belief that Alisoun has interpreted the Bible to justify her own lifestyle.

Alisoun’s views around medieval society would have undoubtedly provoked surprise amongst a medieval audience. ‘May they nat biquethe, for no thyng’, highlights how Alisoun favours an experience person rather than someone who has been born into a social class. This fundamentally challenges the paradigm of the Feudal system, which argued that whatever social class you were born into, you died in. By confronting such a deeply relevant societal issue, there is no doubt that the Wife would have surprised a Medieval audience with these views. Conversely, in the Twenty First Century, issues such as nepotism and gentrification are still rife, illustrating how these socio-economic issues have not evolved from the time of Chaucer and could have arguably become more dominant in the modern day. Through this, it is justifiable, that the ‘Wife of Bath’ would surprise a modern day audience through the radical socio-political views of Alisoun. Marxists would advocate the beliefs of Alisoun, as she is attempting to emancipate herself from the conservative constraints of the archaic Feudal system.

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